Here’s why you’ve been seeing this funky old bus driving around Vancouver lately

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Over the last couple of months, have you noticed an unusual old bus with trolley wires driving around Vancouver on the weekends?

A lot of people have surely spotted this public transit novelty, and the instant reactions are priceless, ranging from widened eyes of disbelief to eager waving and pointing–with lots of photos taken.

Lindsay William-Ross/Vancouver Is Awesome

The bus is the restored 1954 Brill trolleybus number 2416, once part of Vancouver’s public bus fleet until it was retired in 1984. Since early August, TransLink and the non-profit Transit Museum Society of B.C. have been celebrating the 70th anniversary of trolleybus service in Vancouver.

TransLink offered free rides from some limited downtown stops in August, and that same month, the Transit Museum Society began offering ticketed four-hour “fan” trips (fan means the ride is recreational).

The last of the extended fan trip runs of this beautiful Brill was Sunday, September 23. On board: delighted ticket holders (including me and my son) happy to spend a Sunday seeing Vancouver through the windows of a vintage trolleybus.

Lindsay William-Ross/Vancouver Is Awesome

And we were also seen, by so many people in cars and on streets from UBC to Metrotown, and up and down major arteries in Vancouver, like Main and Victoria and Kingsway. Of course, the trolleybus can only go where trolley wires are, but it’s quite a vast territory in Vancouver, thanks to how expansive Vancouver’s eco-friendly electric-powered bus network remains.

These “trolleybuses” are a huge part of Vancouver’s history–they were implemented starting in the late 1940s to replace the region’s vast network of streetcars as part of a “rails to rubber” system conversion.

Using overhead trolley “wires,” the buses are powered by electricity (remember, B.C. Hydro, previously known as B.C. Electric, used to run the transit system, and the hydro-electric powered streetcars and interurbans the covered Metro Vancouver).

Lindsay William-Ross/Vancouver Is Awesome

The journey began at the Marpole Loop, near the Vancouver Transit Centre, the massive facility opened in 2006 to replace the aging Oakridge Transit Centre on 41st (which, vacant and still in the planning stages, was also on our route for the day).

Among the passengers were several current and former Vancouver bus drivers; two of them took the wheel for some spells from retired driver Angus McIntyre, who has done most of the driving for the Brill tours this summer.

There were just a couple of dropped poles, and one stop on an insulator (when you are without power), and lots of upper body workout time logged for the drivers–the Brill doesn’t have power steering! On the way we learned about how the buses are powered and how the engine works, and how the change machine used to operate; the latter involved a different ping or ding for each and every kind of coin or token.

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But the other thing we experienced was a rare kind of joy in being part of something that seemed to bring joy to the people who saw the bus. Mouths widened into smiles, hands raised in greeting, wonder passed over many faces. Moments like that don’t happen every day.

Driver Angus McIntyre explains how the GE motor works on this 1954 Brill (Lindsay William-Ross/Vancouver Is Awesome)

Brill 2416 is taking a break from all of its road time over the last few weeks, so it might be awhile until you spot this charming old trolleybus again. You might spy sibling bus 4612 out and about; it’s not a trolleybus, but it’s being used for a West Vancouver theatre production currently, so you can see it there or if it is on the road for a private booking.

The Transit Museum Society operates other “fan” trips in the year on various buses in their fleet. Follow them on Facebook or check their website’s tour section for details.

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Lindsay is the Managing Editor of Vancouver Is Awesome, and the co-host and co-producer of the Vancouver Is Awesome Podcast. A fifth generation Vancouverite and life-long foodie, Lindsay also serves as a judge for the Vancouver Magazine Restaurant Awards. Previously the Food Editor of Daily Hive, Senior Editor of Vancity Buzz, and Editor-in-Chief of LAist.com, in her past life in L.A. she earned an MA in English, attended culinary school, and was an English professor. Lindsay's first published piece was December 1980 in The Province; it was her letter to Santa. E-mail: lindsay@vancouverisawesome.com // Twitter/Instagram: @squashblossom